The Repeal of Net Neutrality Is an Affront to Online Gamers | Hacker Noon

June 21st 2020

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@osama-tahirOsama Tahir

Perspectives on issues on the intersection of technology and society

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The greatest accomplishment of the digital world heralded by the Internet is the absolute neutrality of access and content hosted on it. Since its inception, the Internet has been known as a platform that was able to achieve a feat that all of modern civilization has been striving to accomplish: freedom of choice.

With millions of users all across the globe connected to this vast network, the Internet hosts content pertaining to any conceivable subject or idea known to man, providing indiscriminate access to any interested user.

However, the abolition of net neutrality is not only an attack on this freedom of choice but is also likely to have far-reaching consequences for one of the most popular activities that the Internet is used for: gaming.

How? To answer that, we must first understand what net neutrality is.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality, in its simplest form, is the principle that online traffic (all the information, data, and content on the Internet) should be treated equally by ISPs (Internet Service Providers).

What this means is that ISPs do not have the authority to discriminate between different forms of online traffic. In fact, under the principle of net neutrality, ISPs are encouraged to ensure the equality of all content and traffic on the Internet.

Some of the ways in which ISPs can discriminate against online traffic is by tampering with the speeds and access to certain websites and services on the Internet (an act more commonly known as “throttling”).

Net neutrality guidelines prevent ISPs from violating the principle of equality so that users can access all forms of services and content on the Internet with equal ease and speed.

This begs the question, how does the abolition of net neutrality impact online gamers and the gaming industry in general?

Implications of Net Neutrality Repeal for Gamers

It might seem, at first glance, that the gaming industry would not be as seriously impacted by net neutrality as other services and content online. Yet, in reality, the gaming industry is among the most severely threatened aspect of the Internet, owing to the repeal of net neutrality.

Although gaming initially began as an offline mode of entertainment, improvements in Internet speed and technology have made the Internet the home of modern gaming. There are hardly any video games today that do not have at least a few features of it dependent on the Internet.

Nonetheless, the thriving online gaming industry is facing considerable risk following the abolition of the cherished neutrality once associated with the Internet.

Here are some of the ways in which the absence of net neutrality can affect the gaming industry:

  • ISPs can now compel gamers to pay a premium price for playing online games hosted on a certain website. This is an example
    of charging extra fees from users interested in playing games that should be free of charge (assuming the developers of the game have made it that way).
  • It is also possible for ISPs to set a limit to the number of bandwidth gamers are allocated for playing some games, leading to increased lag, and much frustration for gamers.
  • Online streaming of games is growing in popularity day by day with the advent of web services like Twitch. This service allows users to stream videos of their gameplay and watch the gameplay videos of other fellow gamers. ISPs can now throttle streaming which affects the quality of streaming and also lead to other problems such as lagging.
  • Inequality in bandwidth allocation and speeds
    might provide some gamers with a clear advantage over fellow gamers that might
    have their speeds throttled, compromising the quality of competitive gaming.   
  • ISPs may also control what kind of gaming websites users can access. For instance, gaming service providers can strike deals with selected ISPs so that users can only access their services, and be barred from other options of their liking unless they pay an extra fee for it.

Although net neutrality was officially repealed last year, it hasn’t really taken effect on a wide scale as of yet.

This is probably because ISPs will play their cards freely and only introduce changes in bits and pieces so that no one really notices anything different in the way they interact with the web.

Nonetheless, there are some examples of Internet companies that are already cashing in on net neutrality such as Cox Communications offering a “fast lane” for gamers at an exorbitantly high price.

Such paid prioritization and offers from ISPs promising “optimized” performance exclusively for gaming or other traffic are simply deceptive and unfeasible in practice. This is because all traffic after it leaves the ISP’s network, behaves the same way irrespective of any optimization techniques applied within said network.

At this point, companies are only taking advantage of the layman’s ignorance, something that the enforcement of net neutrality guaranteed against.

Is there anything you can do about it?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much in your hands about net
neutrality. You are entirely at the mercy of your ISPs.

What you CAN try, however, if you suspect you are being throttled by your ISP, is to use a VPN service. The IP-masking action of a VPN can help you evade throttling if your ISP is specifically applying it to your IP address.

To test, if you’re a victim of throttling, you can opt for a free VPN service such as the few mentioned here, and see if there’s a significant difference between your ping and download speed before and after connecting the VPN.

But that’s all a free VPN is good for because these usually enforce data caps of their own are wont to run out quite fast, especially if
you’re performing data-intensive activities like gaming.

While using a VPN can help users can help restore some neutrality on the web, it is not a guaranteed solution. After all, the control of your Internet traffic rests with your ISP, so it depends on how aggressively they implement throttling and other filtering gimmicks.

Final Thoughts

The dissolution of net neutrality is an affront to basic civil liberties that every individual has the right democratic right to enjoy. Though the full-scale impact of the ruling against neutrality is yet to be seen, ISPs have already started taking advantage of it for their gamer customers.

If these trends continue, the impact on the online gaming industry can take profound proportions. One can only hope that policymakers realize the extent of the problem that this decision can take and overrule FCC’s decision to abolish net neutrality.

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